When All You Feel Is Conditional Love
How To Experience Love Better
Happy March! You know that means Spring is on its way, right? But looking at the amount of snow we have in Minnesota…it sure feels like it’s a long way off. But I know warmer temps are coming. It’s what happens every year!
I hope you got a chance to read last week’s post “When You Don’t Feel Unconditionally Loved” —it serves as a great precursor to this week’s post that I can’t wait for you to read.
On to this week’s post…
We live in a culture where we expect to get what we deserve. And other people should get what we think they deserve. Ha!! It’s funny to write that, but it’s actually true, isn’t it? It is as if we are all walking around with scorecards in our pockets (with little golf pencils) keeping track of when we do good or bad things. Up until recently, my life’s scorecards have been used not to keep track of my own behavior, but to keep track of other people’s. It has all been a quest to figure out who is deserving of my love and trust, and then treat them correspondingly. Since no one can measure up, this made me cynical and distrustful, only choosing to love people out of some kind of self-aggrandized martyr complex.
The truth is that no one is able to be perfect enough to live up to my high standards. This includes myself.
I can’t help but wonder if the reason so many of us have a difficult time experiencing (and then, in turn communicating) unconditional love is that we’ve been raised with a powerful and unattainable set of expectations for our own behavior. We can’t fathom being loved just as we are.
I can’t live that way any longer. This score-keeping—of other people and myself— has to end. I’m thankful that God’s love for me is unconditional, not wavering based on how I act. That’s the kind of love I want to shout from the rooftops.
Why We Don’t Feel Unconditionally Loved:
Because we’ve never seen it demonstrated.
Unfortunately, many of us have never experienced any kind of love that isn’t tangled up with expectations and judgment. Some expectations are good, for sure—i.e., I expect you not to hurt me. But many places we’ve looked to for unconditional love have only ended up hurting us (a church, friends, family), making us feel like we won’t ever find it. Unconditional love may best be demonstrated between people who have earned trust with each other, offering each other pieces of ourselves that can be used against us, but the other person chooses not to harm, but rather, compassionately helps us carry our dark side. Even if you haven’t had it shown to you, you can still show unconditional love to someone else.
Because we think we need to earn it. You can’t.
Many people don’t feel unconditionally loved (by God, in particular) because of the bad things they’ve done, are doing, or want to do. We think we have to get rid of all the bad stuff in our lives before we can be loved unconditionally. I have lived most of my life trying to be so awesome and perfect, in order to deserve the love I was craving. What I got in return, was a bunch of people who loved all the good stuff I was showing to them, which was never enough to satisfy my longing to be loved. Especially since in my head I walked around with, “But if you really knew me—the good, bad, and the über-ugly, you wouldn’t love me.” My faith also tells me that there’s nothing I can do to earn God’s love, it’s a free gift. Hooray! Unfortunately, for many of us, our church upbringing taught us that we had to earn it, or at least to not mess up enough to lose it. If your church teaches God’s conditional love, you might want to look elsewhere.
Because we don’t love ourselves very well. You can!
Self-love is the foundation of understanding unconditional love. Many of us have been told that loving yourself is tantamount to one of the 7 Deadly Sins, that instead, we should view our very essence as wicked and deceitful. This has been the most difficult one for me to do—how can I truly love myself, knowing myself as well as I do? I’m grateful to say now that I really love myself…that I actually really like myself. I’m proud of the person I am choosing to be. I don’t love myself because I’m perfect. I don’t love myself because I’m the best or the greatest at anything. I believe the very best gift God has given me is life…and my life, in particular. As I learn to treat this priceless gift with love and respect, my joy level grows exponentially.
The Role of Grace and Forgiveness
A big part of unconditional love is forgiveness. And maybe the person needing the most forgiveness is you. Start your day with a look in the mirror and offer yourself a giant dose of grace and forgiveness. Celebrate the fact that you’re still here, that you’ve survived a lot of crazy stuff, and that you’re capable of shining a unique kind of light into the world for another day. I know self-pity, believe me, and how it festers and wiggles into the darkest places of my soul. Loving myself…even celebrating myself…is making a choice away from self-hatred, and is deeply rooted in gratitude.
I’m reading an amazing book called “Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World” by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis. She offers, “Fierce love delights in the particularities of who
[someone is]. So, when you love yourself, you take delight in the unique particularities that add up to you, without judgment.”
Why not start a list of your “unique particularities” and remind yourself each day of the things that make you special and lovable?
Something else that’s been super helpful to me on my “love journey” has been to change the expectations I have of others. Instead of secretly desiring that they’d love me perfectly, and then being disappointed and resentful that they didn’t, I’m continually playing the grace and forgiveness cards. I’m letting people love me however they are able to, and I can receive that as love, even if it’s not completely unconditional in my mind.
It requires a great leap of faith…or trust…to allow someone to receive you at your most vulnerable, knowing they could up and leave at any moment. Or they could choose to stay—there’s no way of knowing. To love unconditionally requires a graceful dance…of acceptance and honesty.
Our healthy human relationships can help us understand God’s love…and just as importantly, the love God has for us can deeply inform our human relationships.
Wow, I feel I could write about this for a long, long, long time…but let me end today with the reminder of the second greatest commandment Jesus offered in Mark 12:31 - “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And 1 John 4:7: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
I’m convinced that we will love our neighbor in the same way as we love ourselves. So make sure you’re loving yourself very well.
Making It Practical
Why does unconditional love feel so reckless or irresponsible? What is the value of unconditional love?
Who has shown you unconditional love? Why do you think they did that and what did it feel like?
Is there someone you’ve been loving “conditionally” and it’s created more division than unity? What would it look like to move toward loving them unconditionally?
I have a mantra that I repeat, “Thank you, God, for loving me.” Saying something like this literally reprograms our brains to believe it’s true. What would be your mantra?
I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts about this post!!!
Check out my free 14-Day “Become A Champion of Hope” Reading Plan available on the Holy Bible app or on their website here. Another resource you might enjoy is the free Live Hope Minute mobile app where you can hear a daily minute of hope from me! Just search the App Store on your phone or tablet!
And please remember… No matter how challenging your Winter is, don’t forget your Spring is coming—and with it, the hope of resurrection and new life.
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